Playing chess with the big kids
MIT Chess Club welcomes boy with cancer as an honorary member.
Stephanie Keeler
Student Life

Chess is a cerebral game, but this spring the members of the MIT Chess Club showed that they play from their hearts, too.

The club opened its arms to welcome — and play chess with — Tommy McGraw, an eight-year-old boy from Washington state who came to Boston for treatment in his fight against cancer.

“The MIT Chess Club members, especially club president Daniel Grazian, have welcomed, taught, mentored and befriended my children in a way that very few could have in Boston over the past weeks,” said Joe McGraw, Tommy’s father.

Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-changing challenge at any age, but it’s especially trying for a child who has to move 3,000 miles from home for two months of treatment.

Tommy was diagnosed with brain cancer three months ago. After a successful surgery at Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, Tommy and his family — parents Joe and Leigh, nine-year-old sister Katie, and six-year-old sister Sydney — came to Boston so Tommy could undergo proton therapy treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Although many miles away from their home outside of Tacoma, Wash., the McGraws wanted to maintain some sense of normalcy for their kids. Tommy loves playing sports, but because of his surgery, that was out of the question. “That’s tough on a little boy who is happiest when he has a ball of any type in his hands or around his feet,” Joe McGraw said.

The one hobby that Tommy could still pursue was chess. Since both Tommy and Katie play at their school chess club in Washington, Joe McGraw reached out to the MIT Chess Club — and within 24 hours, the kids were welcomed as honorary members. For the next four weeks, Tommy and Katie were able to play chess with some of the smartest college students in the world.

“It was really a joy to have Tommy and Katie at the club, and our members had a great time teaching and playing chess with them,” said Grazian ’13, president of the MIT Chess Club. “We really hope to see them again in the future.”

Tommy and Katie learned a great deal more about chess, but they also got a sneak peek at what it means to be a college student. The two kids observed club elections and saw that although the students take their studies seriously, they also make time for the hobbies they love.

“In the past few weeks, I have spent more hours talking to my kids about college — and about growing up — than I would have ever expected at this time,” Joe McGraw said.

He said the experience far surpassed his original intent of just arranging for his kids to play chess: “The MIT students welcomed them, taught them, laughed with them, and provided an absolutely tremendous example of what it means to be exceptional college students.”

Before the family returned to Washington, they stopped by to visit Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo and to sing the praises of the students in the MIT Chess Club. “I couldn’t be more proud of our students for welcoming Tommy and Katie into the club and for giving them an outlet while they were in Boston,” Colombo said. “In and out of the classroom, our students are just remarkable.”

The MIT Chess Club is dedicated to providing a place for the chess community at MIT to study, discuss and play chess. The club holds occasional tournaments on campus and participates in tournaments in the Boston area. Learn more about the MIT Chess Club on their website.


Chess Daily News from Susan Polgar
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